Va.: Ag­gres­sively reg­u­late men­haden har­vests

Maryland Independent - - Community Forum -

Here we go again. The Atlantic States Ma­rine Fish­eries Com­mis­sion has held hear­ings up and down the East Coast about what to do about men­haden: Should we keep catch­ing the same amount, catch more, catch less, or do an ecosys­tem study to see how men­haden fit into the scheme of sav­ing the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay?

We have been tr ying to bring the oys­ters back with var­i­ous amounts of suc­cess, but we have a fish that can do a bet­ter job if left alone. The mil­lions of men­haden that are re­moved ev­ery year eat mil­lions of pounds of plank­ton. They should be left in the wa­ter to do what nature in­tended.

If you are won­der­ing why th­ese fish are so im­por­tant, it’s be­cause they are food for most of the other fish that eat fish: the preda­tory fish. If it weren’t for the fish that eat plank­ton, there would be no other fish.

What we have now is one com­pany, Omega Pro­tein, that is dec­i­mat­ing the men­haden pop­u­la­tion. How does it hap­pen? Greed and money. Vir­ginia is where most of the men­haden are caught. The men­haden are reg­u­lated by the Vir­ginia leg­is­la­ture in Vir­ginia wa­ters, in­clud­ing the bay. They should be reg­u­lated by the Vir­ginia Ma­rine Re­sources Com­mis­sion, but the ASMFC reg­u­lates the fish from the shore to 3 miles out into the ocean. There have been bills in the Vir­ginia leg­is­la­ture to move reg­u­la­tion of men­haden to the VRMC, but those bills never get out of sub­com­mit­tee.

As I write this, there will be an­other at­tempt this year to get a bill out of the sub­com­mit­tee and maybe to the floor. Mary­land does not al­low men­haden-re­duc­tion boats into the Mary­land’s part of the bay.

We are ul­ti­mately re­spon­si­ble to see that th­ese crea­tures are pro­vided for as nature in­tended. Haven’t we seen enough of what hap­pens when we don’t pay at­ten­tion to the en­vi­ron­ment around us? Dec­i­ma­tion of buf­faloes, pas­sen­ger pi­geons and now rhinoceroses and ele­phants all are ex­am­ples of what hap­pens if we don’t get in­volved. But it is not just land an­i­mals, it is also wa­ter an­i­mals like whales and cod. And who can for­get the striped bass when their num­bers got so low that a five-year mora­to­rium was placed on fish­ing them?

Yes, I re­mem­ber the days when I could count 30 to 40 boats on the Po­tomac ev­ery week­end dur­ing the summer, and they were all catch­ing fish. There are hardly any now. I re­mem­ber catch­ing crabs just by walk­ing the beach with a net and a bucket. I re­mem­ber the many schools of men­haden on the river in the fall and many seagulls div­ing to pick up the scraps from the blue­fish. Yes, the “tragedy of the com­mons” is alive and well.

So many de­ci­sions we make fa­vor us and not the en­vi­ron­ment. I hope that in the fu­ture we will not hear some­body ask­ing, “Why didn’t some­body do some­thing about the men­haden when we knew how im­por­tant they were and that they were be­ing dec­i­mated?” Bill Bar­lett, Val­ley Lee

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